Tag Archives: Namibia

De Beers Hoovers Up Its Best Diamonds From the African Seabed

Photographs by Simon Dawson/Bloomberg

Kevin Crowley and Julius Domoney | Bloomberg | July 11, 2017

For years oil was the big commodity found offshore. These days diamond giant De Beers finds some of its most valuable gems on the Atlantic Ocean seabed off the coast of Namibia.

They are literally vacuuming them off the ocean floor.

The world’s biggest diamond producer has spent $157 million on a state-of-the-art exploration vessel that will scour 6,000 square kilometers (2,300 square miles) of ocean floor for gems, an area about 65 percent bigger than Long Island. The Anglo American Plc unit mines in the area in a 50-50 joint venture with the Namibian government.

The vessel will scan and sample the seabed to identify the most profitable areas for the ships, which suck up diamonds before they’re flown by helicopter to shore. The investment will help the company maintain annual production of at least 1.2 million carats for the next 20 years, Chief Executive Officer Bruce Cleaver said in an interview. Those stones are “very important to our global mix and to our customers who are looking for higher-value diamonds,” Cleaver said.

Namibia’s diamonds, which have been washed down the Orange River from South Africa over millions of years and deposited in the ocean, are key to De Beers because of their high quality. While not the biggest, the gems have few flaws after being broken from larger stones on their way to the sea bed. Only the strong and good quality ones survive, Cleaver said.

De Beers’s Namibian unit sold its diamonds for $528 a carat last year, much higher than the $187 average for the whole company’s stones and accounting for about 13 percent of total earnings.

The giant subsea “crawler” tractor is lowered into the ocean from the deck of the Mafuta.

De Beers finds some of its most valuable diamonds on the Atlantic Ocean seabed.

The Mafuta exploration vessel dredges the seabed at depths of around 150 meters off the Namibian coast.

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Phosphate Mining Firms Set Sights on Southern Africa’s Sea Floor

Most attempts at seabed phosphate mining have sputtered in the face of moratoriums and other roadblocks. Graphic courtesy of Centre for Environmental Rights

Most attempts at seabed phosphate mining have sputtered in the face of moratoriums and other roadblocks. Graphic courtesy of Centre for Environmental Rights

Mark Olalde | Inter Press Service | November 17 2016

A persistent fear of diminishing phosphorus reserves has pushed mining companies to search far and wide for new sources. Companies identified phosphate deposits on the ocean floor and are fighting for mining rights around the world.

Countries in southern Africa have the potential to set an international precedent by allowing the first offshore mining operations. South Africa specifically is one of the first countries on the continent to begin legislating its marine economy to promote sustainable development, and questions surround mining’s place in this new economy.

From April 2007 to August 2008, the price of phosphate, a necessary ingredient in fertilizer, increased nearly 950 percent, in part due to the idea that phosphate production had peaked and would begin diminishing. Before prices came back down, prospectors had already begun looking for deep sea phosphate reserves around the world.

Since then, the fledgling seabed phosphate industry has found minimal success. While several operations are proposed in the Pacific islands, New Zealand and Mexico rejected attempts at offshore phosphate mining in their territory.

This means southern African reserves – created in part by currents carrying phosphate-rich water from Antarctica – are the new center of debate.

Namibia owns identified seabed phosphate deposits, and the country has recently flip-flopped about whether to allow mining. A moratorium was in place since 2013, but in September the environmental minister made the controversial decision to grant the necessary licenses. Since then, public outcry forced him to set those aside.

The former general project manager of Namibian Marine Phosphate (Pty) Ltd, a company that applied to mine in Namibia, told IPS that environmental groups and fisheries proved to be a loud and organised opposition. He predicted the debate in South Africa would be just as difficult for mining companies to win with no precedent for such mining.

Adnan Awad, director of the non-profit International Ocean Institute’s African region, said,

“There is generally this anticipation that South African processes for mining and for the policy around some of these activities are setting a bit of a precedent and a bit of a model for how it can be pursued in other areas.”

Three companies, Green Flash Trading 251 (Pty) Ltd, Green Flash 257 (Pty) Ltd and Diamond Fields International Ltd., hold prospecting rights covering about 150,000 square kilometers, roughly 10 percent, of the country’s marine exclusive economic zone.

Diamond Fields International’s prospecting right along 47,468 square kilometres of the Indian Ocean shares space with areas of oil exploration and production. Source: Diamond Fields International Ltd. background information document.

Diamond Fields International’s prospecting right along 47,468 square kilometres of the Indian Ocean shares space with areas of oil exploration and production. Source: Diamond Fields International Ltd. background information document.

The law firm Steyn Kinnear Inc. represents both Green Flash 251 and Green Flash 257. “Currently it does not seem as if there is going to be any progress, and there is definitely not going to be any mining right application,” Wynand Venter, an attorney at the firm, said, calling the project “uneconomical.”

Venter said the Green Flash companies received drill samples, which showed current prices could not sustain seabed phosphate mining.

This leaves Diamond Fields as the only remaining player in South African waters. The company announced in a January 2014 press release that it received a 47,468 square kilometer prospecting right to search for phosphate.

According to information the company published summarising its environmental management plan, prospecting would use seismic testing to determine the benthic, or seafloor, geology. If mining commenced, it would take place on the seafloor between 180 and 500 meters below the surface.

“A vital and indisputable link exists between phosphate rock and world food supply,” the company stated, citing dwindling phosphate reserves.

Diamond Fields did not respond to repeated requests for comment.

Environmentalists argue that not only would phosphate mining destroy marine ecosystems, but it would also lead to continued overuse of fertilizers and associated pollution. They call for increased research into phosphate recapture technology instead of mining.

“We could actually be solving the problem of too much phosphates in our water and recapturing it. Instead we’re going to destroy our ocean ecosystems,” John Duncan of WWF-SA said.

The act of offshore mining requires a vessel called a trailing suction hopper dredger, which takes up seafloor sediment and sends waste back into the water column.

A southern right whale swims off the coast of the Western Cape province near Hermanus, a town renowned for its whale watching. South Africa’s Department of Mineral Resources granted three prospecting rights covering about 150,000 square kilometers, or 10 percent, of the country’s exclusive economic zone. Credit: Mark Olalde/IPS

A southern right whale swims off the coast of the Western Cape province near Hermanus, a town renowned for its whale watching. South Africa’s Department of Mineral Resources granted three prospecting rights covering about 150,000 square kilometers, or 10 percent, of the country’s exclusive economic zone. Credit: Mark Olalde/IPS

“It amounts to a kind of bulldozer that operates on the seabed and excavates sediment down to a depth of two or three meters. Where it operates, it’s like opencast mining on land. It removes the entire substrate. That substrate become unavailable to fisheries for many years, if not forever,” Johann Augustyn, secretary of the South African Deep-Sea Trawling Industry Association, said.

In addition to direct habitat destruction, environmentalists argue the plume of sediment released into the ocean could spread out to smother additional areas and harm wildlife.

Mining opponents also worry offshore mining would negatively impact food production and economic growth.

Several thousand subsistence farmers live along South Africa’s coast, and the country’s large-scale fishing industry produces around 600,000 metric tonnes of catch per year.

“[Mining] may lead to large areas becoming deserts for the fish populations that were there. If they don’t die off, they won’t find food there, and they’ll probably migrate out of those areas,” Augustyn said.

While the fishing and coastal tourism industries account for slightly more than 1.4 billion dollars of GDP, the potential economic benefits from marine mining remain unclear. There are no published estimates for job creation, but Namibian Marine Phosphate’s proposal said it would lead to 176 new jobs, not all of them local.

“The benefits are not coming back to the greater South African community,” Awad said. “African countries generally have been quite poor at negotiating the benefits through multinational companies’ exploitation of coastal resources.”

South Africa is one of only three African nations – along with Namibia and Seychelles – implementing marine spatial planning. This growing movement toward organised marine economies balances competing uses such as oil exploration, marine protected areas and fisheries. Earlier this year, the Department of Environmental Affairs, DEA, published a draft Marine Spatial Planning Bill, the first step toward creating marine-specific legislation.

According to government predictions, a properly managed marine economy could add more than 12.5 billion dollars to South Africa’s GDP by 2033. What part mining will play in that remains to be seen.

“Internationally the off-shore exploration for hard minerals is on the increase and it is to be expected that the exploitation of South Africa’s non-living marine resources will also increase,” the DEA’s draft framework said.

Neither the Department of Mineral Resources nor the DEA responded to repeated requests for comment.

Mark Olalde’s mining investigations are financially supported by the Fund for Investigative Journalism, the Fund for Environmental Journalism and the Pulitzer Center on Crisis Reporting. Additional support for this story was provided by #MineAlert and Code for Africa.

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Namibian Chamber of Commerce against experimental seabed mining

Concept art of bulk cutter. Image: N.R.Fuller

Kenya Kambowe | Namibian Sun | 4 November 2016

The Namibia Chamber of Commerce and Industry (NCCI) northern branch has condemned the mining of phosphate off the Namibian coast, saying that the interest of Namibians should always come first.

The northern branch also slammed the issuing of the marine phosphate environmental clearance certificate to Namibian Phosphate Mining (NMP) by the environmental commissioner Teofilus Nghitila.

The certificate was subsequently withdrawn by environment minister Pohamba Shifeta who has since ordered Nghitila to inform the Ministry of Fisheries and Marine Resources, the fishing industry and all other interested parties to finalise their inputs within three months.

The cancellation comes in the wake of an urgent High Court application filed by several fishing associations citing irregularities in the issuance of the environmental clearance certificate. The NCCI is convinced that marine phosphate mining is a harmful process that poses a great risk to marine ecosystems.

“The extraction of marine phosphate is associated with a lot of possible irreversible destruction which can and will be detrimental to the sea ecosystem, with absolutely no possible mitigation factors,” the statement read.

“The negative destruction ranges from extraction to the end results and it gets worse with every stage of beneficiation.” The statement acknowledges the contribution of the fishing industry to the Gross Domestic Product (GDP) of the economy and its significant role in reducing the high unemployment rate in the country.

Furthermore, the chamber argues that the foreign shareholding of NMP will contribute insignificantly to the Namibian economy. NMP is owned by Mawarid Mining LLC (85%), an Omani company, and Havana Investments (Pty) Ltd (15%), a Namibian company, belonging to businessman Knowledge Katti.

“It is important to note that fisheries contribute immensely to our GDP. It brings in a lot of foreign currency through the export of our fish products, most of which are value-added products. Through the value addition, a lot of employment opportunities are created and a lot of Namibians are employed,” the statement further says.

“It is therefore important to understand that, in the first place, phosphate mining will not benefit our sustainable economic development in the long run; no matter how beautiful the picture might be painted. The biggest stake of the shareholding belongs to the foreigners.”

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Namibian seabed mining approval suspended amid corruption claims

namibia-pohamba-shifeta

Environment and Tourism Minister, Pohamba Shifeta

See also: Nautilus Minerals linked to corruption allegations around Namibian seabed mining

Shifeta suspends NMP phosphate certificate

Albertina Nakale | New Era | November 3, 2016

Environment and Tourism Minister Pohamba Shifeta has ordered that the environmental clearance certificate granted to Namibia Marine Phosphate (NMP) to mine phosphate off Namibia’s coast be set aside for the sake of the public good.

This follows a massive public uproar surrounding the perceived secretive issuance of the certificate, which was granted by Environmental Commissioner Teofilus Nghitila on September 5, 2016.

Critics of the proposed contentious project have demanded updated scientific facts in order to make an informed decision on the issue. The decision of Nghitila to grant the certificate to NMP prompted considerable debate and reaction.

NMP’s Sandpiper project constitutes more than N$5 billion in investment capital and is estimated to yield 1.8 billion tonnes of phosphoric sand. NMP is owned by Mawarid Mining (Namibia) (42.5 percent) and Sea Phosphates (Namibia) (42.5 percent), both wholly owned subsidiaries of Mawarid Mining LLC (85 percent), an Omani company, and Havana Investments (Pty) Ltd (15 percent), a Namibian company.

Shifeta yesterday delivered his more than two-hour ruling in the matter between appellant Michael Gaweseb – who is a trustee of Economic Social Justice Trust – Nghitila and NMP. The hearing was held on October 31, when Gaweseb appealed against the commissioner’s decision to grant the certificate to NMP, based on two reasons: that the activity of phosphate mining has a long devastatingly adverse impact on the marine environment, and lack of public consultation.

Shifeta said he took the liberty to study the facts and all evidence presented before him by the appellant surrounding the issuance of the phosphate certificate.

Although Shifeta said there was no secrecy surrounding the awarding of the certificate – after closely studying the evidence presented before him he reached the conclusion that the certificate granted by Nghitila should be set aside and that the commissioner should notify the Ministry of Fisheries and Marine Resources, the fishing industry and all other interested parties to finalise their inputs in the report within three months. He said that in accordance with Article 95 (1) of the Namibian Constitution, which evidently underlines the importance of environmental protection, he reached his conclusion based on that provision and the cause of the public good.

“That whole process of consultation should be completed within six months from today. That this order is with immediate effect and binds all parties, directly or indirectly affected, unless set aside by the High Court as per section 51 (1) of the Act,” Shifeta announced.

He also agreed with the appellant on the issue of further public consultation, saying caution should be taken to balance the rights of the respondents and the sake of the public good.

“Accordingly, Section 50 of the Act and Regulation 25 as its delegated law should be applied with caution and in a special manner because of the value and obligations Article 95 (1) of the Constitution impose on citizens and residents of Namibia,” he said.

He still maintains that the fisheries ministry failed to respond to the request of the commissioner for a review.

“It is clear that on 13 June 2016, the commissioner’s request made to the Ministry of Fisheries and Marine Resources to review the final report was ignored or not seen necessary to respond to, hence the commissioner’s correct application of Section 44 (2) of the Act (Environmental Management),” Shifeta maintained.

He defended that the Environmental Management Act of 2007 only came into force in 2012, saying it’s a brand-new legislation while the mining licence was issued in 2011.

“I will accept the notion that ‘ignorance of the law is not an excuse’. However, you may agree with me that the fishing industry is a big industry whose contribution to the national economy is very significant. The fishing industry, I assume, was supposed to channel their inputs to the final report for review through their line ministry but the ministry failed to respond to this, for the reason only known to them,” Shifeta said, adding that such failure cannot be blamed on the entire fishing industry.

NMP, in a statement issued on Sunday, challenged critics of its envisaged project to present counter-scientific evidence to back up claims that seabed mining would destroy the country’s marine life.

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Urgent application against Namibian seabed mining approval

namibia

LEGAL BATTLE: An urgent application has been filed in the High Court against phosphate mining in Namibia

See also: Nautilus Minerals linked to corruption allegations around Namibian seabed mining

Ellanie Smit | Namibian Sun | 02 November 2016

An urgent application has been filed in the High Court yesterday against the awarding of the environmental clearance for marine phosphate mining at the coast.

The application was filed by lawyer Sisa Namandje who is acting on behalf of the Confederation of Namibian Fishing Associations.

The urgent application follows after the environmental clearance certificate for Namibian Marine Phosphate’s Sandpiper Project was quietly issued on 5 September and it only came to light more than a month later.

At the time of going to print last night, it was not clear as to when the matter will be heard.

Affected parties had only 14 days to appeal the decision from the date of granting the certificate.

Namandje last week accused environmental commissioner Teofilus Nghitila of committing a number of irregularities and that he had not complied with the Environmental Management Act.

These accusations were contained in correspondence between Namandje and government attorney Mathias Kashindi, who is representing Nghitila after the fishing confederation, demanded through their lawyer, that Nghitila should provide detailed information on the processes followed with regard to granting the environmental clearance.

They wanted to know, among others, the date on which he had received the assessment report from the NMP, as indicated in Section 35 of the Environmental Management Act of 2007, the details and all particulars of the notifications made to the public and interested parties, as well as the closing date for submission contemplates, again in terms of Section 35 of the same Act.

However, after Nghitila provided the information to his lawyer, Kashindi in his correspondence with Namandje admitted that Nghitila had to a certain extent not complied with some of the requirements of the act.

Contradicting remarks

Nghitila has refuted claims of irregularities on his part and expressed concern over the fact that his lawyer had written to Namandje without his consent and provided contradicting information than what was discussed between them.

According to Nghitila, he answered all of the questions that Namandje asked on the process followed in the granting of the environmental clearance.

“I have dealt with questions posed by Namandje in my response as prepared for discussion with the government attorney. All evidence and documentation have been provided,” he said.

Nghitila has also expressed his concerns to the Attorney-General Sacky Shanghala and the Minister of Environment of Tourism, Pohamba Shifeta with regards to this misrepresentation by the government lawyer.

Some of the issues pointed out by Nghitila were that the issue of phosphate mining was discussed at a Special Cabinet Committee on Trade and Economic Development meeting of 15 February 2016.

He said that the environment ministry was given three months to pronounce itself on the matter with regard to the two mining licenses that have been issued for offshore phosphate mining.

According to him, at a meeting of 1 June, the environment ministry requested the deferment of the matter to allow technical consultation with the Ministry of Mines and Energy and the Ministry of Fisheries and Marine Resources.

At a meeting on 11 August Nghitila gave a presentation at which a notice was given of the decision as regard to ML 170 of Namibia Marine Phosphate.

He said that both ministers of mines and fisheries were part of this meeting.

The meeting agreed that Nghitila be granted the independence to decide on the matter as per the provisions of the Environmental Management Act.

“This served as notification to the competent authority, mines ministry and fisheries ministry,” said Nghitila.

He added that the notification of the application and requests for written comments were made through the company on 17 April 2012 and a number of notices were made inviting the public for public meetings.

With regards to the fact that Nghitila did not advise all interested parties, including fisheries associations of his decision to grant environmental clearance, he said Section 37 of the Act and Regulation 18 refer that only notifying the proponent and competent authority is required.

Nghitila also responded to claims about the review process that was not followed, saying that this already started in 2012 after the Environmental Impact Assessment report was submitted.

He said this review process included consultation with both the fisheries and mines ministries including ordering the company to do the verification study. After the submission of the verification studies, which forms part of the EIA Report, Nghitila satisfied himself with the report and consultation with the relevant ministries were undertaken which culminated in a workshop held on 27 April 2016 in Swakopmund.

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Nautilus Minerals linked to corruption allegations around Namibian seabed mining

nautilus

The giant machines Nautilus wants to use to mine the seafloor in Papua New Guinea

PNG Exposed | 31 October 2016

Prospective Solwara 1 seabed mining company Nautilus Minerals can be linked to the allegations of corruption surrounding a controversial decision by the Namibian government to allow seabed mining.

Namibia’s Fisheries Minister, Bernhard Esau, is crying foul over a government decision to allow phosphate mining on the seabed.

He says the decision to grant an environmental permit to Namibian Marine Phosphate was done behind closed doors and in defiance of an earlier government imposed ban. As Fisheries Minister, he says he was denied an opportunity to present his own proposal for a detailed 3-5 year environmental study before any approvals were granted.

Namibian Marine Phosphate is owned by the same company, MB Holdings, that is the largest shareholder in Nautilus Minerals.

MB Holdings owns 85% of Namibian Marine Phosphate through its wholly owned subsidiary, Mawarid Mining LLC.

MB Holdings is owned by Omani business man Mohammed Al Barwani.

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Namibian Fisheries Minister wants phosphate mining clearance withdrawn

Corruption allegations threaten to sink experiemental seabed mining approval in Namibia

shifetaesau-namibia

Shinovene Immanuel | The Namibian | 27 October 2016

FISHERIES minister Bernhard Esau wants Cabinet to instruct the environment ministry to immediately withdraw the environmental clearance certificate issued to Namibia Marine Phosphate.

Esau’s rejection of the phosphate project and recommendations are contained in a draft report obtained by The Namibian this week which proposed a detailed study on marine phosphate mining over three to five years.

The minister wanted to make an urgent submission to Cabinet on Tuesday, but his attempt was blocked, possibly by the powerful group in Cabinet and some state officials who support phosphate mining.

The report also shows how Cabinet resolutions adopted by former President Hifikepunye Pohamba’s administration in 2013 were ignored when the ministry of environment approved an application to mine phosphates from the bottom of the ocean.

Efforts to get comment from Esau were not successful as his mobile phone was unreachable.

Environment minister Pohamba Shifeta and economic planning minister Tom Alweendo said the matter was not discussed at Cabinet this week.

Environmental commissioner Teofilus Nghitila issued an environmental clearance certificate to Namibia Marine Phosphate (NMP) on 5 September 2016.

Nghitila based his judgement on a secretive environmental impact assessment report by NMP.

NMP, which wants to mine marine phosphate to make fertilisers for sale abroad, is 85% owned by Omani oil billionaire Mohammed Al Barwani through his company Mawarid Mining LLC, while 15% is owned by serial middleman Knowledge Katti through his company Havana Investments.

Esau’s report said the fisheries ministry is concerned by the decision of the environment ministry to issue an environmental clearance certificate.

In fact, the fisheries ministry described that decision as “premature, and perhaps in contradiction of the precautionary principle as espoused by the Latin phrase in dubio, pro natura (when in doubt, favour nature)”.

Esau wanted Cabinet to know that his ministry was not consulted before the clearance certificate was issued to NMP.

The fisheries ministry is “concerned that marine phosphate mining may commence immediately, which may cause irreparable damage to the marine ecosystem, including fisheries stocks, and hence cause a conflict between the mining and fishing industries”.

In the report, Esau said Cabinet issued a ban on offshore phosphate mining, a decision that was backed up by a legal opinion obtained on 13 December 2013 and 2 July 2015 from the attorney general as binding on the ministry of fisheries, mines and other state organs.

“This moratorium, therefore, still stands until Cabinet pronounces itself otherwise,” the minister stated.

The conditions of that ban were that no phosphate environmental clearance would be issued in 18 months, and that an independent scoping study (a preliminary study to define the scope of a project) should be done.

After that, a comprehensive strategic environmental assessment – a process of predicting and evaluating the impact of a strategic action on the environment, and using that information in decision-making – would be conducted during the ban under supervision of the fisheries ministry, in consultation with the environment and energy ministries.

Esau said during that moratorium, a scoping study was done by an independent consultant from Norway, who recommended that a strategic assessment should be conducted in order to get sufficient scientific knowledge and regulatory mechanisms in place to mitigate the impact of seabed mining on the ocean.

That strategic assessment, which is the responsibility of the fisheries ministry as the “competent authority on the marine environment”, is still not yet completed, Esau said, adding that the findings of that report will inform the environment impact assessment process.

“It was expected that the ministry of fisheries will commence on the strategic assessment once Cabinet has pronounced itself on the scoping report,” Esau said.

The fisheries ministry presented the scoping study report to the deliberative Cabinet meeting, but the matter was referred to the Cabinet committee on trade and economic development chaired by Alweendo for further discussion.

“This process is still ongoing (the last meeting was on 27 April 2016, the last communication on 7 July 2016 raised questions that are still pending),” Esau said in the report.

This appears to be the point where Esau was sidelined by his fellow ministers on that committee. Instead of discussing the scoping report, the majority of ministers on the committee directed the environmental commissioner to decide on the phosphate application.

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The fisheries ministry wants Cabinet to re-endorse the decision and conditions made in 2013, and to ban phosphate mining and direct the environment ministry “to immediately withdraw the environmental impact assessment clearance certificate issued for marine phosphate mining on emergency grounds”.

Esau said once Cabinet clarifies the earlier decision, the next step in the marine phosphate mining consideration is to conduct a strategic environmental assessment, a process which will take three to five years.

Once the recommendations of the strategic assessment are completed, the fisheries ministry will submit the findings for a final environmental impact assessment on marine phosphate mining.

Esau said since 1990, the issue of phosphate mining has been one of the most important policy decisions for the country, apart from the issue of the dumping of nuclear waste, the poaching of wildlife and the international trade in endangered species.

“Therefore, it would have rendered a united government if adequate consultation had occurred before the environmental clearance certificate was issued,” he noted.

Esau also wants Cabinet to consider authorising the development of Namibia’s blue ocean economy policy, to act as government’s policy coordinator on cross-cutting issues.

This policy will be developed by the fisheries, mines and energy, environment, works and other line ministries.

The attorney general’s office will provide legal guidance on the process which involves these ministries.

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